Cervical Screening: Smear Tests

Women aged between 24 and 64 should have a cervical screening every 3 to 5 years to help prevent cervical cancer. The screening is quick and painless and can be done here in the practice.

If you are aged over 24 and have never had a smear test, or if it has been more than 3 to 5 years since your last screening, you should arrange an appointment with our Practice Nurse. You should not have the test while you are having a period or in the 4 days before or after your period as this can affect the sample.

 

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening is not a test for cancer. It is a method of preventing cancer by detecting and treating early abnormalities which, if left untreated, could lead to cancer in a woman's cervix (the neck of the womb).

A sample of cells is taken from the cervix for analysis. A doctor or nurse inserts an instrument (a speculum) to open the woman's vagina and uses a spatula to sweep around the cervix. Most women consider the procedure to be only mildly uncomfortable.

Early detection and treatment can prevent 75 per cent of cancers developing but like other screening tests, it is not perfect. It may not always detect early cell changes that could lead to cancer.

 

Who is eligible for cervical screening?

All women between the ages of 25 and 64 are eligible for a free cervical screening test every three to five yearsThe NHS call and recall system invites women who are registered with a GP. It also keeps track of any follow-up investigation, and, if all is well, recalls the woman for screening in three or five years time. It is therefore important that all women ensure their GP has their correct name and address details and inform them if these change.

Women who have not had a recent test may be offered one when they attend their GP or family planning clinic on another matter. Women should receive their first invitation for routine screening at 25.

 

Why are women under 25 not invited?

This is because changes in the young cervix are normal. If they were thought to be abnormal this could lead to unnecessary treatment which could have consequences for women's childbearing. Any abnormal changes can be easily picked up and treated from the age of 25. Rarely, younger women experience symptoms such as unexpected bleeding or bleeding after intercourse. In this case they should see their GP for advice.

 

Why are women over 65 not invited?

Women aged 65 and over who have had three consecutive negative results are taken out of the call recall system. The natural history and progression of cervical cancer means it is highly unlikely that such women will go on to develop the disease. Women aged 65 and over who have never had a test are entitled to one.

 

What about women who are not sexually active?

The NHS Cervical Screening Programme invites all women between the ages of 25 and 64 for cervical screening. But if a woman has never been sexually active with a man, then the research evidence shows that her chance of developing cervical cancer is very low indeed. We do not say no risk, only very low risk. In these circumstances, a woman might choose to decline the invitation for cervical screening on this occasion. If a woman is not currently sexually active but has had male partners in the past, then we would recommend that she continues screening.

Breast Screening

Screening aims to find breast cancers early, when they have the best chance of being cured.

What is breast screening

Cancer screening involves testing apparently healthy people for signs that could show that a cancer is developing.

Breast screening uses a test called mammography which involves taking x-rays of the breasts. Screening can help to find breast cancers early, when they are too small to see or feel. These tiny breast cancers are usually easier to treat than larger ones.

Overall, the breast screening programme finds cancer in about 8 out of every 1,000 women having screening.

Who has breast screening

Each year more than 2 million women have breast cancer screening in the UK. The NHS Breast Screening Programme invites all women aged between 50 and 70 for screening every 3 years. You need to be registered with a GP to receive the invitations. 

In some parts of England, the screening programme has been inviting women from 47 to 73 years old as part of a trial.

If you are older than 70, you can still have screening every 3 years but you won't automatically be invited. To make an appointment, talk to your GP or your local breast screening unit.

If you are younger than 50, your risk of breast cancer is generally very low. Mammograms are more difficult to read in younger women because their breast tissue is denser. So the patterns on the mammogram don't show up as well. There is little evidence to show that regular mammograms for women below the screening age would reduce deaths from breast cancer. 

Breast screening is also for transgender people, talk to your GP if you haven't been invited for screening.

Bowel Screening

Bowel cancer screening involves having tests to check if you have or are at risk of bowel cancer.

Why it's offered

Bowel cancer is a common type of cancer in both men and women. About 1 in 20 people will get it during their lifetime.

Screening can help detect bowel cancer at an early stage, when it's easier to treat. It can also be used to help check for and remove small growths in the bowel called polyps, which can turn into cancer over time.

Types of screening test

There are 2 types of test used in NHS bowel cancer screening:

  • bowel scope screening – a test where a thin, flexible tube with a camera at the end is used to look for and remove any polyps inside your bowel
  • home testing kit (the FIT or FOB test) – a kit you use to collect small samples of your poo and post them to a laboratory so they can be checked for tiny amounts of blood (which could be caused by cancer)

If these tests find anything unusual, you might be asked to have further tests to confirm or rule out cancer.

When it's offered

NHS bowel cancer screening is only offered to people aged 55 or over, as this is when you're more likely to get bowel cancer:

  • if you're 55, you'll automatically be invited for a one-off bowel scope screening test, if it's available in your area
  • if you're 60 to 74, you'll automatically be invited to do a home testing kit every 2 years
  • if you're 75 or over, you can ask for a home testing kit every 2 years by calling the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60

If you're too young for screening but are worried about a family history of bowel cancer, speak to your GP for advice.

Always see a GP if you have symptoms of bowel cancer at any age – don't wait to have a screening test.

Risks of screening

No screening test is 100% reliable. There's a chance a cancer could be missed, meaning you might be falsely reassured.

There's also a small risk that the bowel scope screening test and some of the tests you might have if screening finds something unusual could damage your bowel, but this is rare.

There are no risks to your health from the home testing kit.